Life-Changing Temor Treatment

Rush is using focused ultrasound to dramatically improve tremor

Brain Health & Conditions September 29, 2020
ultrasound tremor

A Rush team of neurological and neurosurgical clinicians is the first in Illinois and among the first in the United States to offer an innovative, noninvasive treatment for medication-refractory tremor: MR-guided focused ultrasound.

MR-guided focused ultrasound is the latest treatment option for patients with essential and parkinsonian tremor. Many are calling it “life changing,” with far fewer risks than traditional treatments. MR-guided focused ultrasound is a safe, incisionless treatment designed to reduce hand tremor. It targets a specific area of the brain with high-intensity focused ultrasound, guided by magnetic resonance imaging.

“I took that drink in my left hand — the hand that was treated — and was able to move it steadily to my mouth and drink,” Ken Lemerman, an essential tremor sufferer, said following the procedure. “It was amazing. Literally within minutes after getting off the table, I’m holding a drink in my hand without spilling a single drop. It had been years since I could do that.” Read Ken's remarkable story.

“I would have said to you that I think I probably had 10 years of life,” said Gary Sindelar, an Illinois resident who had experienced Parkinson’s-related tremors for years. “And I could have 50 years left now.”

Rush University Medical Center is the only center in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Missouri offering this innovative procedure, which has been FDA-approved for unilateral (one side of the body) treatment of essential tremor and parkinsonian tremor.

Rush's Movement Disorders Program serves patients who benefit from collaboration between neurologists and neurosurgeons, and is led by neurologist Leonard Verhagen, MD, PhD, and neurosurgeon Sepehr Sani, MD. These specialists have the expertise to evaluate each person and determine whether MR-guided focused ultrasound is the best approach.

Essential tremor is the most common movement disorder that typically involves tremor of the hands during activities such as eating and writing. It can severely affect patients' quality of life.

The MR-guided focused ultrasound treatment is a single-session, outpatient, incisionless procedure that reduces the risk of complications and side effects compared to surgical intervention.

The treatment focuses ultrasound energy to target and destroy the ventral intermediate nucleus of the thalamus, which results in tremor improvement. Physicians monitor the procedure using MRI, gaining real-time thermal feedback to verify the target tissue is destroyed, while preserving healthy tissue simultaneously. The treatment is intended for essential tremor patients at least 22 years of age who have not responded to medication. Patients with Parkinson’s disease must be more than 30 years old.

“We're excited to offer the MR-guided focused ultrasound treatment at Rush," Sani says. “This gives patients another incredibly effective treatment option, one that can greatly improve their quality of life."

Verhagen adds: “MRgFUS is a powerful alternative for tremor patients who do not qualify for deep brain stimulation, for instance because of advanced age, or who simply do not like the idea of having hardware implanted in their brain."

Physicians can now schedule patients for the procedure. To refer a patient for evaluation, please email neurofus@rush.edu or call (312) 563-2032.

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